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An Officer and a Gentleman

Born shortly before the end of the Civil War, Harry Hill Bandholtz (1864–1925) seemed destined to become a military man inclined toward diplomacy over violence.

At 17, he joined the Illinois National Guard and earned the rank of lance sergeant. He was nominated to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1890. As part of the U.S. Army during peacetime, he spent several years teaching at the Michigan Agricultural College. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he served as a captain of the 7th Infantry Division. His courageous actions in Cuba earned him a Silver Star (awarded posthumously).

At war’s end, he was stationed in the Philippines, which had been annexed by the United States after the Treaty of Paris. The early years were hectic and violent with the start of the Philippine-American War, which continued until July 1902.

During his 13 years in the Philippines, Bandholtz earned a reputation as an officer who could resolve conflicts through peaceful means. In one dramatic event, he walked into a rebel camp, armed only with a local guide, and convinced the rebel leader, Col. Antonio Loamo, to surrender his men and guns.

He served in various capacities in the Philippines, including provincial governor of Tayabas Province, chief of the Philippines Constabulary, and commander of the Veteran Army of the Philippines. Proving the trust and respect he had garnered, he was the only American army officer elected to office by the Filipinos.

Along with his ability to interact diplomatically with friend or foe, Bandholtz also exuded excellent organizational skills. When America entered the Great War in 1917, he was assigned command of 29th Division’s 58th Brigade. His experience and expertise was noted by high command and he was promoted to U.S. Army provost marshal general for Gen. John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force in France. Pershing had been displeased with the state of the Provost Department, which policed the Army. When Bandholtz took over, he reorganized the department of 40,000-plus members, which included creating a Division of Criminal Investigations and professionalizing the AEF’S Military Police Force. As the war drew to a close, he established the Military Police Corps.

Shortly after the war, he remained in Europe as the American representative for the Inter-Allied Military Mission. He helped oversee the withdrawal of Serbian and Romanian troops from Hungary. Reminiscent of his walking into the Filipino rebel camp, Bandholtz, armed only with a riding crop, prevented Romanian troops from sacking the country’s National Museum in Budapest.

When asked about that October day, he said, “I simply carried out the instructions of my Government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army.”

The statue of Major General Bandholtz in front of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. (Misibacsi/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1921, he resolved the West Virginia Mine Wars when he commanded 2,000 federal troops and orchestrated a double-envelopment of the combatants. The bloody insurrection, which had lasted 10 years, ended without a shot fired.

Bandholtz, over his career, exemplified what it meant to be an officer and a gentleman by resolving conflicts through the use of force, but most notably through diplomacy.

Known as the “Father of the Military Police Corps,” he was inducted into the Military Police Corps Hall of Fame in 1992―the hall’s inaugural year. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on July 9, 1918, only seven months after the medal was introduced. He also has a statue erected in Budapest commemorating his actions to save the nation’s artifacts.

The diary he kept during his time in Hungary was published posthumously and was considered by professor, historian, and editor of the diary, Fritz-Konrad Kruger, as “a monument to an upright, fair-minded and humane American, who has represented the best type of his countrymen in an unfortunate land.”

Dustin Bass
Dustin Bass is the host of EpochTV’s “About the Book,” a show about new books with the authors who wrote them. He is an author and co-host of The Sons of History podcast.

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